Things have become tense in the past few days, as large numbers of cars, driven (presumably) by Vox supporters, clogged up a number of cities on Saturday, calling for President Sánchez to resign (Vox wants him imprisoned for treason) and a ‘government of national unity’ to take control.
Such a government would be made up by three main parties to handle the country: PSOE (the calmer elements, anyway), PP and Vox. Of course, the PP and Vox wings of this fantasy regime would effectively be running things, even though voters in the last elections chose otherwise.
The pandemic and the lockdown seem to be the key reasons behind the current tensions and protests, well, apart from the fact that no one likes their party losing an election.
It all started reasonably enough – city Spaniards had been going out on to their terraces each evening at 8.00pm to applaud the stretched hospital staff, who have worked long hours in considerable danger from the unknown properties of the coronavirus to save many thousands of lives. Country Spaniards (if we can divide society into two for a moment) haven’t been as cooped up and were able to spend their time outside - picking the flowers, feeding the chickens and wondering at the strange antics of the townies.
The appreciative city-folk appeared to be saying ‘Gosh, nurses and doctors are more important for our safety than pop stars, actors and footballers’.
Perhaps, indeed, they always were.
After a while, people got a bit bored of the eight pm clapping, and took to singing or playing music from their terraces. It was only a small step before some of those who had voted for another party than one of the groups currently in the government coalition – perhaps supporters from the PP or Vox – thought they could start bashing saucepans as a political protest. Everyone likes a spot of noise before dinner. They weren’t really in favour of a particular plan, but to let the rest of us know that they weren’t ‘socio-comunistas’.
Saucepan bashing, with a stick or something which makes a satisfying ‘clank’, is an import from Argentina and is known both there and here as ‘una cacerolada’.
The new government – it only took office on January 13th – had been faced with an emergency that no one had any experience in handling. Rather than protecting the economy, as a conservative government might have done – they erred on the side of caution and, under the advice of epidemiologists and other medical experts, they went with the lockdown strategy.
An article called ‘España no funciona’ at Infolibre looks at why Spain has always been so divided (a massive weakness evident today during the current crisis). It says in part ‘…The forty years of democracy after the Franco dictatorship have failed to dismantle the power of the negative Spain – that of the young gentlemen, the cardboard-generals and the retrograde cardinals. Rouco Varela (the fundamentalist Spanish bishop) has more media presence than that of popular priest Father Ángel and thousands of other exemplary priests and nuns’. Of course, the bishops have their own radio, the COPE, and TV channel, Canal 13. They also have the tacit support of a number of conservative daily newspapers: La Razón, ABC and El Mundo for example. The Church in Spain is jealous of its power.
An example of this divided Spain is the current ‘Revolution of the Rich’ or ‘Los Cayetanos’ in the smartest neighbourhood of Madrid, where the saucepans were being most enthusiastically bashed and crowds of well-healed people are in the streets wearing their Spanish flags as cloaks and waving ‘their hammer and golf-club’ revolutionary banners. The leftist eldiario.es writes ‘What’s happening with the revolution of the rich has nothing to do with the ravages of the pandemic, or the devastation of the economy, or the temporary lack of freedom; what is happening is a manifestation, however freaky, of the struggle of the young gentlemen to hold on to power’. A more cynical version comes from Meneame: ‘What has already been coined as the "Cayetano revolution" consists of a group of people who live in the most expensive neighbourhood in this country and who have never come out to demonstrate until they have had their vacations in Bali or Formentera cancelled and their right to a great job without having to study for it removed. Dozens of Cayetanos are demonstrating without keeping the required social distance, endangering their lives and that of their families, and inevitably that of the health workers who will soon have to care for them…’. Anyone can fall sick from the virus, and the lockdown is only a partial solution. However, it’s more comfortable in a large apartment than a small one, or, for some poor folk, stuck for months in a car or a shack. The economist Marta Flich reminds us, ‘the virus has no ideological preference’.
On social media, we are treated to the sad video-clip of a woman rooting through a dustbin as the flag-wearing militants passed her by and ignoring her completely. Another clip showed a fellow in the back-seat of his chauffeur-driven convertible slowly nosing through the brightly dressed crowd while howling through a loud-hailer: ‘Resign, resign’. A man of few words.
A meme from the left says. ‘Why bang an empty saucepan when you can fill it with stew and give it to your neighbour?’
Can one protest against the government without wearing a Spanish flag as a cloak? The point is, the Government is seen as a mixture of the wrong kind of socialists plus the Bolivarian Venezuelan agents of the extreme left (Podemos to you and me), plus the nationalists, which in Spanish terms are the anti-nationalists – the boyos from Catalonia, and the Basque Country. Then there’s the republicans, who don’t like the royal family and have their own flag. That’s why we wear a Spanish flag, they say, because the others, the fifty-one per cent, are traitors.
All good clean fun perhaps, and worth a few column inches. The ultras are on the warpath. Yawn.
But they are good at manipulation. The Facebooks and Whatsapps and Twitters are full of their propaganda. As Donald Trump or Cambridge Analytica or Steve Bannon can tell you, the point is to be read. And seen. And heard. Truth is in the eye of the beholder, and fake-news often works better than the real thing.
So we come to Saturday’s protest. A clever idea to make it a demonstration with cars (poor people don’t own cars, and lookit, Hertz has gone bust). Six thousand cars and motorcycles, bedecked with flags of course, jammed the centre of Madrid, where six or ten thousand people wouldn’t have done the same. The leaders of the Vox were on their stage, at the symbolic Plaza de Colón: Columbus Square. ‘We want to bring down the traitor Pedro Sánchez and imprison him for crimes against the Spanish people’, said Santiago Abascal, the leader of the far right party, wearing a nifty lapel pin of half Spanish colours, half black mourning.
The leader of the larger Partido Popular, generally considered as a right-wing party by anyone except a Vox supporter, is now struggling for space on the political perch. Pablo Casado is trying to woo the far-right voters back to his colours with, as eldiario.es calls it ‘his total war against the Government’.
Whether the Government, evidently inexperienced in matters of pandemics, has done or is doing a good job or not is irrelevant. They will be judged once it’s all over. Right now, they are facing two dangerous enemies: the virus and the opposition, both set on scoring maximum damage.
The fact is that the conservatives are winning the war at the moment – and Spain most certainly does not need a second open conflict.